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Toddler Waking at Night

I have breastfed my son for 14  months now. I have tried to give it up a couple of times but he has not cooperated very well with that. However, I am VERY ready to be done. He doesn't take a bottle any more, except at bedtime. He has been off them since 1 year of age. He only has a night time bottle before bed. I have done this because it helps him get sleepy enough to go to bed. I used to breastfeed him first (don't produce enough milk) and then finish with a bottle. We are now to the point where I can only give him the bottle and he doesn't insist on breastfeeding too before bed. We have a strict bedtime routine of bath, books and bed at the same time each night. Although he goes to sleep fairly easy, he has been waking at night recently wanting to nurse. He is not a pacifier kid, so I cannot soothe him with that. I have tried sending Dad into his room to calm him at night but he just wails. We've tried to let him cry it out a little, but that hasn't worked either. I've also given him a "lovey" in hopes he'd soothe himself back to sleep cuddling it. That's how they get him to sleep at daycare. The only thing that calms him in the middle of the night is to get up and nurse for a few minutes.
I am at a loss. Any suggestions?

It sounds like you have done all the right things, but he still not sleep well ( and neither are you). The one thing I see to improve on is the little bit of “crying it out”. Anything shy of full on “crying it out” will fail. You must be willing to let him cry all night. (He won’t but it will seem like it).

If you set a time limit or give in your efforts will fail. If you give in (hold and nurse him) you are training him to cry. He is learning that if he cries louder and longer eventually he will get will he wants. This training currently applies to crying for attention, but will evolve into whining for a piece of candy.

You may check on him periodically, but do not feed him or even pick him up. These visits should be at increasing intervals and quick. Keep the lights off. You may lay him back down and give him his “Lovey” but try not to make eye contact.

When you do try to let him “cry it out” he will be more persistent than in previous attempts. It will be tough, but not impossible. It is time to let him “cry it out”. For a few tips see “crying it out” .

Your window to have him “cry it out” is closing. As children get older it becomes harder to force the issue. By 18 months, many children can climb out of their crib. It is much harder to force a toddler to cry it out when they are knocking on your bedroom door.

It is important for his long term health and for the health of your family to teach him to sleep through the night. You may want to ask his doctor evaluate him prior to starting the “crying it out”. Once you believe that crying it out is in his best interest and you are committed to let him cry all night then you will be successful.

Follow up

All is fairly good in the sleep world. My son has 4 molars breaking through and an incisor. He has a few stretches of nights here and there that he wakes once a night. He usually rubs at his mouth or asks for drink and then settles back down. We haven't really needed to let him cry it out at all. With the exceptions of the nights his teeth are hurting, he is doing really well. We stick to the routine of bath, books and bed. He goes down sleepy and puts himself to sleep. If he does wake, he finds his pacifier (his new love since we have finally stopped breastfeeding) or his blanket and soothes back to sleep. The routine seems peaceful for all of us. 

Our next battle will be to break this pacifier habit. He wouldn't take a pacifier when his was younger, but now must have it at bed. I was willing to trade that to end the breastfeeding :)

Thanks for following up with us and hopefully I won't make a liar out of myself this evening!!!

Originally written April 2011
follow up posted June 2011
Dr. Gordon, Windermere Pediatrician






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